Supreme Court bats for steps to speed up relief for accident victims

Moots national grid for online submission of claims and payments across States.

The Supreme Court is exploring the creation of a nationwide online mechanism to help road accident victims and their families get compensation within a short time of the mishap.

A Bench led by Justice S.K. Kaul is considering various avenues to speed up the compensation process, including the setting up of a national grid to seamlessly disburse compensation across States to the online submission of police records and accident claim documents in Motor Accidents Claims Tribunals.

The court’s intervention came on a writ petition filed by one of India’s largest insurance firms, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Company, highlighting the plight of victims who have been waiting for years for their money.

Bajaj, drawing on its “pan-India experience” in the insurance sector, said in many parts of the country the police take months to even file an accident report for submission before the claims tribunal. The report is the first step towards fixing compensation under the Motor Vehicles Act. The delay is often due to chronic shortage of manpower in the police force, unwieldy geography or pure lethargy.

The Act requires “contemporaneous” collection and verification of information about an accident. Delay would destroy crucial and important evidence. Further, it could also influence witnesses away from the truth. The company argued that delay also adds to the trauma of the accident and affects the victim’s right to equality and access to justice.

“Expeditious disposal of motor accidents claims is a fundamental right for beneficiaries as well as insurance companies. The Motor Vehicles Act is a welfare legislation whose primary objective is victims and their families get timely and appropriate compensation,” Bajaj, represented by senior advocate Meenakshi Arora and advocate Vipin Nair, said in court.

Mr. Nair argued that Supreme Court’s own Artificial Intelligence Committee, headed by Justice L. Nageswara Rao, has also been considering a virtual mechanism to speed up the compensation process. He submitted that both Delhi and Madras High Courts have streamlined an online procedure by which compensation process was both quick and transparent. However, this system would not be suitable for bigger States.

Acknowledging the submission that it was time to embrace technology to improve justice administration especially during the time of a pandemic, the Bench asked Additional Solicitor General Jayant Sud to hold a virtual conference with stakeholders on the issue. The court also invited advocate Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan, a domain expert, to participate in the virtual conference along with the Union Transport Ministry officials.

In its petition, the company reasoned that delay in the collection of information on the accident and submission of report in the tribunal makes it also tougher for insurers to separate genuine claims from the fake ones. Bajaj said it was also the “valuable right of insurers to separate the genuine claims from others on the basis of verified information supplied by the police”. The case has been listed for hearing on March 16.

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